LGBT Students

This online sidebar accompanies the Teaching Tolerance article "Possession Obsession."

LGBT teenagers have the same vulnerabilities to abusive dating as straight kids—and then some.

“There’s an added layer for these kids—the fear of being outed if they report abuse, because they might not be out to their parents or friends,” says Tonya Turner, senior staff attorney at Break the Cycle, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that assists young survivors of dating violence. Their need for secrecy could make them less likely than straight classmates to report an abusive situation, she adds.

Also, sometimes they’re in environments rife with the potential for abuse. For example, at schools with few out peers, LGBT teens may look for romantic partners in bars, where they can be easy targets for harassment by older, more savvy people, reports Connie Burk, executive director of the Seattle-based Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse.

They’re also more likely than straight kids to be thrown out if parents discover their sexual orientation. A disproportionate number of homeless teens are LGBT kids who must resort to “survival sex,” she adds.

And if they find partners at school, students sometimes stay in relationships with abusive classmates “because, they say, ‘I don’t know anybody else in my school who’s gay,’” Burk points out.

Kids who are willing to report abusers often fear they won’t be believed, notes Turner. “If it’s two boys, adults will say, ‘Oh, it’s just two guys fighting. What can you do?’ And if it’s girls, we’ve heard adults respond, ‘How can a girl hurt another girl?’”

Adults’ own stereotypes can throw doubt on credibility if the physically abused partner of two young lesbians looks more masculine. “The taller, bigger one may not fight back—she may be passive,” says Turner. “But adults just don’t believe what’s really happening with these young women.”

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